Bile as Argument

by A. Jay Adler on January 23, 2012
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Several days ago, a late reader of my post “Christopher Hitchens, Glenn Greenwald, and the War of Ideas” sent me an insulting private email. Since this is a blog with a public commenting apparatus, I am always struck when people choose to insult me privately rather than offer counter-arguments and insult in the public forum. I have considered this phenomenon in the past. There is, in part, I think, recognition, in the mere insult, that a boundary is being transgressed, a level sunk below, and the consequent concern that the comment will be deleted. The private email ensures, at the very least, that I will receive the verbal shiv, because, as I said before, the writer “imagines the whispered remark the more deeply wounding insult, like a blade inserted at close quarters.” The writer also probably imagines the unlikelihood that the victim will make the insult public, and thus be challenged to defend his form of argument. People are free to imagine whatever they like.

The writer, Robert Pentangelo, wrote the following:

By the way, you neocon apologist, since you finally ascertained that the Bush administration got it wrong on Iraq:

1.  Where are your blogs condemning them for their lies and manipulations?
2. Where are your blogs  condemning Snitch for his continued war mongering AFTER you in your brilliance finally figured out the truth.

You are the dishonest bullshit artist, not Mr. Greenwald.

The first point to make is that Pentangelo wrote in response to a post that was not a defense of the Iraq War or a criticism of Glenn Greenwald’s own position on the Iraq War, but a criticism – as just about always when I write about Greenwald – of the manner in which Greenwald argues: its dishonesty and its, technically speaking, nature as bullshit. In my post, in fact, I highlighted how Greenwald’s deceptive argument, purporting to serve as resistance to some prohibition against speaking ill of the dead, specifically Christopher Hitchens, and as some sort of consideration of the “protocol for public figure deaths,” was actually the latest of Greenwald’s frequent exercises in personally trashing anyone who, as he did, supported the Iraq War, but who has either not recanted his support or, like Greenwald, simply, conveniently built a public career on never acknowledging his former support in the first place. There will be another post on this tomorrow. Pentangelo, an apparent Greenwald fanboy, continues in the manner of his hero by ignoring the subject of the post and wants to focus, instead, on Iraq. As there is always someone wrong on the Internet, for the Pentangelos and Greenwalds there is always still someone out there who thought differently from them (well, not, actually, Greenwald) on Iraq and who has not yet been reviled as lower than a snail’s ass. They cannot rest.

Penatangelo wonders where are my blogs condemning the Neocons and Bush administration for their “their lies and manipulations” on Iraq. Apparently one of those for whom the mouth is to off more readily than the bother is to research, Pentangelo seems not to know that the Iraq War began in March 2003 and I did not begin to blog until November 2008. For the first year of my blogging, the focus was on my travels in Indian Country. I haven’t skewered the Kennedy  administration for the Bay of Pigs yet, either, but I’m sure I’ll get caught up. Anyone who has read this blog knows where I stand in relation to the Bush administration, and, for instance, on still lively issues during the life of this blog such as torture.

But this is not about me, though the Greenwald’s and Pentangelos will always personalize the issues in ad hominem attack rather than honest consideration of ideas. (This, by the way, is not ad hominem, because the very issue is the person and how he argues, and I am offering idea and illustration in support of my claim.) Greenwald himself even offered a recent defense of the procedure.

Is it really “a sign of decency” to refuse to view any political ideas as not merely wrong in some abstract intellectual sense, but as a reflection of the person’s character? Obviously, there are many political disagreements — most — which can and should be conducted in perfectly good faith without the need for personal animus. Conversely, though, aren’t there some political views so repellent and sociopathic that “a sign of essential decency” is to make it personal, rather than refusing to do so?

Of course, nearly everyone will think that of course there are views so repellent we need to make them personal – Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot, and George W. Bush, Rush Limbaugh, Christopher Hitchens, George Soros, Saul Alinsky and, yea, Barry Obama. For among the corrupting influences on the right of the American political scene whom Greenwald may be said to simulate, Newt Gingrich is one. It is Gingrich more than any public figure in American politics who originated – consciously, purposely originated – what became known as the “politics of personal destruction.” It was Gingrich who engineered the GOP ascent into the congressional majority by determining that the loyal, collegial opposition would be henceforth enemies of America. The clarion call of the far right fringe – the John Birch Society – would become the everyday thrust of mainstream political attack. Are there “any political ideas” Greenwald asks that are “not merely wrong in some abstract intellectual sense, but … a reflection of the person’s character?” Sure, we will agree. But if “repellent and sociopathic” begin at Hitchens and, might I float, Glenn Greenwald, what room does that leave for Saddam Hussein and Bashir Assad – spawn of Satan? Is that even worse?

The language, the terms of the debate, is so excessive, so broadly cast that once you determine to use those nets, the stock is quickly depleted. It happens every time.

I’ll suggest to Robert Pentangelo that he try to argue any issue in American politics without sputtering out “neocon” like a “you know” tic. That he is probably too old for the resort to “Snitch.” (Hitchens, Hitch, Snitch,.Get it? Ha!) That if he calls someone dishonest, he actually point out a dishonesty – a determinable truth and a misrepresentation of it – and, if a “bullshit” artist, he offer up the turd, with a clear analysis of its properties. It’s dirty work, but some of us have to do it. Until then, he doesn’t engage in any kind of worthwhile argument at all. He merely serves as an object lesson.

AJA

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7 comments

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

SoupOne January 23, 2012 at 6:44 pm

I read Greenwald’s attack on Jeff Goldberg. He’s a strange one.

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/01/a-question-from-glenn-greenwald-updated/251705/

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Reilly January 23, 2012 at 2:15 pm

The first point to make is that Pentangelo wrote in response to a post that was not a defense of the Iraq War or a criticism of Glenn Greenwald’s own position on the Iraq War, but a criticism – as just about always when I write about Greenwald – of the manner in which Greenwald argues: its dishonesty and its, technically speaking, nature as bullshit.

And I’m sure you’d agree that one of the things to keep in mind about Pentangelo — despite the fevered, militant nature of his e-mail to you — is that he almost certainly has the intellectual capability to understand your critique of Greenwald’s method of argumentation as existing entirely apart from “a defense of the Iraq War or a criticism of Glenn Greenwald’s own position on the Iraq War”, but it is a capability that never engaged.
In that respect Pentangelo would be like many of Greenwald’s loyal followers; intelligent but self-conditioned to chase the frisbee in whatever direction Greenwald throws it, never even noticing if he’s thrown it left-handed, right-handed or under-handed.
And, although there’s no functional reason that others higher-up the food chain of internet and traditional media shouldn’t have the same response, it’s even more startling when they do, as in the case of Corey Robin and, just recently, Harper’s publisher John R MacArthur.
It’s a complex issue but in the end it’s a triumph of identification over reason, the very disposition that many on the left like to believe is exclusive to the right.

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Benjamin H. January 23, 2012 at 5:55 am

I wonder how Greenwald’s support of the Iraq war due to his post-9/11 patriotic fervor reflects on his person, as well as his earlier wiretapping on behalf of Matt Hale.

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